Taiwan boat captain's death: Manila charges 8 coast guards

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Members of the Taiwanese investigation team inspect the MCS 3001, the ship involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman, in May 2013.

The Philippines has filed homicide charges against eight Coast Guard personnel who figured in a confrontation inside a contested sea lane that led to the death of a Taiwanese fishing boat captain last year.

While the decision placated Taipei, the Philippine Coast Guard said it was "demoralised" but would follow "whatever is mandated for us to do".

In a resolution released on Tuesday, the Philippine Department of Justice said there was "probable cause" to charge Commanding Officer Arnold Enriquez de la Cruz and seven of his men over the death of Mr Hung Shih-cheng on May 9 last year.

Mr Hung died from bullet wounds when his boat, the Guang Da Xing 28, was fired upon by a Coast Guard vessel commanded by De la Cruz off Batanes province, north of Luzon island. His death enraged people in Taiwan. Taipei barred migrant Filipino workers from its lucrative labour market and curbed travel between Taiwan and the Philippines. The sanctions were lifted in August last year after Philippine President Benigno Aquino formally apologised and agreed to compensate Mr Hung's family.

The Coast Guard had stood by its men, claiming the fishing boat had entered the Philippines' 200-mile (320km) exclusive economic zone and then tried to ram its patrol craft. Taipei maintained the boat was in an exclusive economic zone that overlapped the Philippines' and that the Coast Guard had used excessive force in firing at the boat.

Ruling in Taiwan's favour, the Philippine Justice Department said the men could not claim "self-defence" or invoke their "lawful duty" as the fishing boat did not present "imminent or grave danger".

In a statement, Taiwan called the decision a "victory for justice". "We firmly believe through the filing of criminal charges, those responsible will be brought to fair trial and justice will be served," Taipei Economic and Cultural Office political section director Andrew Lin said in an interview.

rdancel@sph.com.sg


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